Ever since our first semesters as freshmen, we have all pictured how nice and stress-free our lives will be once we graduate. The closer we come to graduation, it often seems that the opposite can happen. Negative feelings such as anxiety seem to increase as we worry about how we are going to get a job, get into grad school, and survive as a hopefully full-functioning adult.
This can be especially prominent in highly competitive fields where the qualified applicants tend to exceed the number of jobs, or where the standards to be accepted into a certain degree program are set outstandingly high, including the music, law, and medical fields.
However, no matter what field you’re in, you likely feel anxious about what is to come after you are done with your undergraduate degree. How do you know you will actually get a job? What if you don’t get the kind of job you want?
The first thing that can help with these kinds of thoughts and worries is knowing that they are normal. The future, for the most part, is always uncertain. And with uncertainty often comes anxiety. As human beings, we like predictability. We like to know what is going to happen and when, so when we acknowledge that we don’t know what will happen – or even worse, realize that very bad things could happen – we understandably develop anxiety.
Even if you know your reaction is normal, you’re still left with the anxious feelings. How can we cope with them?
One way is to remind yourself of instances where you have dealt with uncertainty before. If you’re in college, think back to your senior year of high school. When you were applying for college, you likely had very similar feelings because you were uncertain about where you would be living in the next year.
The same is true for every other decision and point in your life. We tend to look back on our past and think we “knew” what was coming. In reality, if one small thing happened differently, your life today could have been drastically different. The heart of the matter is that the future is always uncertain, and that uncertainty is simply more prominent at certain points in your life like those that involve major change. Though this may seem even scarier, it can hopefully also help remind you that you are a pro at dealing with uncertainty. You got this.
Another way to help manage this anxiety is by imagining the best (or at least a good) scenario and working toward that image. This can help you feel more positive emotions in the present moment when you imagine this scenario, which can help combat the negative anxiety.
Some may argue that imagining worst-case scenarios is important so that you are prepared. While this may be true, this also undermines the importance of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you imagine certain scenarios, the more likely you are to believe they will happen. In turn, that belief will lead you to fulfill that scenario, good or bad. The expectations you set for yourself can become your reality. You are smart and capable, so imagine the job you want 10 years from now and work toward that. Focusing on that image may help you let go of worries (at least for a few minutes).
Additionally, you can try to work on developing an openness to uncertainty or change. One really great way to do this is through meditation. Sit down in a quiet place, and simply notice how your experience shifts – your physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts, all constantly changing. Become curious about how the experience shifts, then gradually work on accepting this constant state of change. With practice, this acceptance can bleed over to the rest of your life. Headspace has a really great course on Change, and their student subscription is only $10 a month!
Finally, when discussing anxiety about the future, it is imperative to do some self-reflection. Personally, I tend to struggle the most with this kind of anxiety when I am having serious doubts about my career path. When this happens, I ask myself why I’m doing what I’m doing to begin with. Where do my passions lie? What do I hope to do with my career? What do I want my life to look like in 10, 15, 20 years? Is the path I’m on the one that will get me there?
These are really tough questions, and it helps immensely to talk them out with someone else. When it comes to your career, both academically and professionally, the more people you talk to, the better. Each person will have unique insight and perspectives on your situation that may rekindle your passions or lead you on a slightly different path. This could mean talking to friends, professors, family members or individuals in jobs that you could see yourself in.
If these questions or worries about the future are overwhelming, you can talk to a counselor as well. The CMU Counseling Center offers free services to all students, and I highly recommend talking to them if you’re feeling overwhelmed and concerned. They can help you see things in a new light and in a healthy way!
Most importantly, trust yourself. You have made it through multiple stressful semesters and life transitions, and you will make it through this one. You have so much potential, and you will find what gives you life in this world.
May you find peace.